Web Matters

I am sure you all know that Facebook bought Whatsapp for however many billion dollars this week.

Is it too much?  Does the fact it was mostly paid for with stock that looks over valued mean it is effectively a lesser price tag?  Will Whatsapp start posting adverts? Maybe, but who cares, none of those questions are of much concern to me.

What does matter?

I am amazed that Facebook are allowed to consume anyone they like, removing anything that looks like competion.

I am bemused that so few of us seem to have noticed, let alone care, let alone challenge the idea that a handful of companies dominate our daily interactions with the internet, that something designed to be decentralised nows sees information and power concentrated in so few hands.

I am astounded that the Whatsapp debate focusses on the price, FB’s access to new markets and whether they will succumb to placing adverts on Whatsapp.

The reality:

FB will mine your Whatsapp contacts and correlate them. Personal conversations indicate really strong connections.  They represent hugely valuable pieces of information.  Think about it, how many people are you connected to on FB and Twitter etc? Lots I am sure. Then compare that to the number of people you routinely message or even email through your personal email account.   Many fewer for most of us.

FB will mine your Whatsapp conversations,  machine reading them, inferring your location, preferences and intentions.  It will securitise that and sell it.

Whether the resulting adverts appear on Whatsapp is a sideshow, the securitised data about us that we so casually give away, will ensure they appear creepily on your FB stream, in your clunky old email and possibly even on your TV. Your TV likely has a hard drive, that likely already contains adverts targetted at you specifcally but in some clunky way. Don’t be surprised if in the near future, a conversation you thought private about some trip or intended purchase is followed by eerily precise adverts that just happen to dovetail neatly with your plans.

You might be fine with all that.  Its the price you pay for all that social media being free, and some carefully targetted adverts might be quite useful.

Then again, you might not have the faintest idea what is actually going on.  Personally, I just want to own my own identity and choose what gets done with it.

I have just joined Tim Berners Lee’s campaign, “The web we want”.  I don’t usually do that sort of thing.  There are elements of that movement I am unsure about, some factions are moving towards encryption, which I suspect to be counter productive. But then, I rather think that this debate matters.

Try the blog here: https://webwewant.org/the-decentralized-web/

What do you think?